Meet the designers with extra small gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show

Blooming Balconies and Container Gardens are new categories that celebrate urban living (Picture: Emma Cattell/

A record three million new gardeners started growing over lockdown — with balconies, containers and window boxes blooming across the nation as a symbol of hope.

And to recognise the importance of such small spaces during the pandemic, RHS Chelsea Flower Show has created two new garden categories this year.

Blooming Balconies and Container Gardens will be celebrated for the first time, to the delight of the new army of younger gardeners and green-fingered city dwellers.

Blooming Balconies focuses on transforming urban high rises into calming spaces immersed in nature, while Container Gardens maximise space and are perfect for renters who want to take their gardens with them when they move.

Helena Pettit, RHS director of gardens and shows, says: ‘We are really excited to introduce these two new garden categories this year and to show the thousands who visit the world’s greatest flower show and the millions who watch the BBC coverage at home just what you can do with next to no outdoor space.’

Here, we looks at some of the show’s groundbreaking displays…

Pop Street Garden

Designed by John McPherson

John has created an ultra colourful container garden (Picture: Emma Cattell)

This high energy container garden was designed to jumpstart the transition from ‘lockdown to on-the-town’. Taking its inspiration from street and Pop Art, it’s the perfect place to hang out over drinks with good company, suggests designer John McPherson.

‘People need connection. We were not able to date, mingle or spend time with friends and we have felt that intensely during the pandemic,’ says John.

‘So the vibrant colours, coupled with bold shapes, textures and pop culture references, are designed to get everyone in the mood to celebrate.’ The garden contains dynamic sculptures and an original mural by artist Robert Littleford. It is inspired by John’s own home and garden.

Bold shapes and designs add interest (Picture: Emma Cattell)

‘My design celebrates colour and the need for it, with exuberant, lush, playful and exotic planting. Gardens are additional rooms to our homes, and a place to increase our wellbeing.

‘And they should reflect your personality. Think about the stuff you love, things you’ve collected or how you’ve decorated your home, and find ways to bring them into the garden.

‘A container can be made from almost anything as long as it has proper drainage. If you’re a Star Wars fan, create a Star Wars-themed garden. The Force will be with you! Always.’


1. Trachycarpus fortunei, the Windmill palm. If you want to be reminded of being on a beach somewhere when it’s snowing outside your window, this one’s for you.

2. Oreocereus leucotrichus, the Old Man of the Andes Cactus. I love the exotic shapes and textures of cacti and they remind me of my travels. Containers mean you can enjoy them indoors in the winter.

3. Phyllostachys nigra ‘Black Bamboo’ is wonderful as a screening plant. Cut off the bottom leaves to expose stems and up light for dramatic effect.

4. Carex alata ‘Aurea’, Bowles’ golden sedge. I love grasses in containers. They are low maintenance and a variety of form. Some provide fantastic colour accents.5. Dryopteris erythrosora, Japanese Shield fern. I’m mad about ferns in containers, because you can green up almost any shady spot with an instant woodland or tropical garden.

5. Dryopteris erythrosora, Japanese Shield fern. I’m mad about ferns in containers, because you can green up almost any shady spot with an instant woodland or tropical garden.

6. For flowering perennials, try this amazing hot pink Aster with the longest ever name, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’. It’s a daisy specially createdin memory of a family member.

The Balcony of Blooms

Designed by Alexandra Noble

Alexandra has created a dreamy balcony filled with wild grasses (Picture: Emma Cattell)

Alexandra Noble demonstrates how small spaces can be productive, practical and enchanting.

She says: ‘Introducing nature into high-density urban spaces improves our connection to the natural world whilst providing benefits such as cleaner air, urban cooling and habitat for wildlife.

‘I wanted to create an immersive feel where one feels surrounded by plants despite being up in the air.

She proves that a small space can still be peaceful (Picture: Emma Cattell)

‘The continuous edge planters maximise green space whilst ensuring the design is practical, with adequate floor space for furniture as well as built-in benches with liftable lids for storage.

‘Edible herbs and two trees add to the sense of verdant enclosure whilst wall lights ensure the space is usable once the sun has gone down.’

The IBC Pocket Forest

Designed by Sara Edwards

Sara’s design repurposes industrial containers and transforms them into a wildlife haven (Picture: Emma Cattell)

Sara Edwards wanted to think big for her small space by creating an urban pocket forest. Using repurposed Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC) her garden was inspired by the balconies of Milan’s Bosco Verticale and creates a diverse, multi-layered haven for wildlife.

‘IBC’s are sold off cheaply at the end of their leasing lifecycle and, like pallets and shipping containers, are readily available, modular, and easily customisable,’ says Sara.

Plants, like people, like to live in communities, says Sara (Picture: Emma Cattell)

‘They are also far cheaper than buying comparable planters of the same size, making this both sustainable and affordable for the smallest budgets.

‘Going big with containers enables you to have a large volume of plants, which like people, prefer to be in a community and create their own ecosystems. Even with the smallest of spaces you can plant your own forest to provide an urban sanctuary and a habitat for all sorts of creatures and insects.’

Tips for creating a container garden

Think big. Find the biggest container you can and fill with a mix of soil and compost. The lifespan of compost you buy in a bag is short, so it needs to be mixed with organic matter to boost it. Top up regularly to keep it healthy.

Drainage is important. The container needs holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape so the roots aren’t sitting in water.

Watering is key for containers, even in the winter, and especially with large plants, shrubs and trees.

For planting, think height, width and trailing. For height you can’t beat the architectural structure of Phormiums. The Yellow Wave variety has metre-long, bright yellow leaves edged in green and makes a wonderful statement.

For some mid-storey width, Hostas will tolerate sun or shade. Containers also avoid hungry slugs and snails.

For trailers, Muehlenbeckia complexa is a wonderful plant. It’s known as a climber but use it as ground cover to spill over the edge of a container.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from September 21-26.

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